Animalis, by John Peter Jones – book review by Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Animalis, by John Peter Jones
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, October 2014, trade paperback $12.99 (330 pages), Kindle $0.99.
Animalis begins with 17-year-old pod pilot Jax Minette, his same-age best friend and commanding officer Hank Schneps, and two other pod pilots being launched into low orbit to intercept a space plane controlled by a rat Animalis.
“At the end of the sparring field, the path turned and joined a road running through the middle of the small base, passing the armory and storehouse. Jax tilted his head up to gaze at the launch shaft of the base’s airport disappearing into the clouds. It was used to sling space planes almost to low orbit, saving thousands of pounds of fuel. It was a magnificent sight. The honey comb pattern of the beams started wide at the brightly lit base and rose up to a slender point a thousand feet in the air, like a giant had pinched the metal and dragged it into the sky.
The view was cut off as they entered the hangar beside the launch shaft and continued walking toward the Hornet. The barracks, the mess hall, the officers quarters, and the command center were all part of the Hornet – a monstrous space plane with two pod bays, four turrets, and room to house forty men.” (p. 8)
Mankind is fighting for survival against the Animalis. The Animalis are all vicious killers.
“Arena fights – Two Animalis fighting to the death. Not just to the death, but till the loser was devoured. Or worse, till the body was thrown into the crowd of Animalis watching in the stands, and they devoured the loser. The Animalis were still mostly animals, and animals needed to hunt. It was better than Animalis hunting on the streets, as long as you didn’t have to watch it.” (p. 21)
The Animalis are supposed to be savage, feral animals. Then how do they build arenas? How do they build space planes and put them into orbit? But they are clearly hostile to humans:
“Hank held his hand out to block the door: ‘Hold on.’
Jax had already expanded one of the crate icons as Hank had spoken. It expanded to reveal its contents: Weapons. Tactical, long-range laser rifles. Jax expanded more icons. Rifles, pistols, shock sticks – the whole plane was loaded with military-grade weapons. The mission had a new layer of complexity. It was illegal. They had to be Animalis militants willing to die to protect their payload. Jax could have a shootout. Blasting holes in the walls, sucking the plastic debris out into space.” (pgs. 22-23)
Jax has only heard about the Animalis and seen videos of them up to now:
“Easy – stay and watch the hole. But as Jax waited, his subconscious mind filled with the conflicting information he had heard about the Animalis, trying to prepare him for a possible encounter. He had seen plenty of videos of Animalis. Of course there were the violent and disturbingly brutal videos of the arena. In Jax’s mind, they confirmed that the Animalis were as unpredictable and unthinking as their animal counterparts. Then there were the videos of Animalis acting like humans, and sometimes super humans: working complex jobs, learning new languages, and most surprisingly, teaching other Animalis similar skills. The behaviors were likely mindlessly programmed into the Animalis through training, and if left alone, the Animalis were sure to revert back to normal animal behaviors.” (p. 24)
Jax’s first encounter with the rat Animalis belies this:
“Up close, the Animalis looked surreal. In gravity, it would have stood upright at about four and a half feet tall. It was like a human, but the proportions were all wrong: head was too big, arms too short, legs too thick, spine too long. And yet every feature had the same design language as a human’s.
But its face was where any resemblance to human beauty ended. The head was almost identical to its rodent relatives. The long, bent snout of a rat. Two large front teeth. Ears the size of baseballs. Fur that was glossy and black. But the eyes were the hardest to look at – yellow, expressionless eyes. They gave no hint to the creature’s thoughts or emptions, so Jax assumed it wanted to kill him. The image of the teeth breaking through his glass helmet and biting into his face repeated over and over in his mind.
‘What is this, human? You shouldn’t be here,’ the rat said. The dry lips stretched with large movements, revealing the two jagged front teeth. A growl punctuated its speech. ‘Don’t touch anything. On my plane, and you think this is your space? Confused, it must be confused, insane. […]’” (pgs. 26-27)
The rat Animalis’ ship escapes but Jax and Hank bring back two ferret-like animals of an unknown species they find on it. This raises the possibility that the Animalis are creating new forms of animals. Jax’s and Hank’s commander considers this important enough that he sends them with the mystery animals to Hurley Grimshaw, a young scientist he knows who is developing her own theory that the humans and Animalis can live together in peace. She already has trained Hodge, a fox Animalis, as her assistant.
Jax accompanies Hank, Hurley, Hodge, and the two quasi-ferrets as they roar off in Hurley’s plane/spaceship/flying lab to find if the Animalis are naturally savage or if someone/something is making them that way. They also learn whether the Animalis have been bred or created by the ominous Ivanovich Machine; whether mankind could have been artificially created by aliens in the distant past, and more. There are lots of Animalis:
“Just beyond the next section of desert, beside a large rock formation, were the two kangaroo Animalis. They stood talking while leaning back on their thick tan and white tails. Their khaki shorts and shirts were straight and starched, and matched the expedition hats they both wore. Straps from a harness looped over their shoulders and connected with a heavy buckle across the chest. One of them turned, noticing Jax and Hank approaching.
‘G’day, mates! I’m Talon, and this here’s Wes. Starting bright and early today, aren’t we? So much to see.’” (p. 82)
In fact, everyone except Jax seems to know what’s going on. Jax may not be an idiot, but he seems unbelievably uneducated to be sent on such an important secret mission. Animalis (cover uncredited) is an enjoyable light s-f adventure with humans and intelligent animals mixing in equality, if not necessarily in friendship. My Little Pony fans will love the little Russian horse.
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